The Field of Cell Competition Comes of Age: Semantics and Technological Synergy

Front Cell Dev Biol. 2022 May 11;10:891569. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2022.891569. eCollection 2022.


Stem cells experience many selective pressures which shape their cellular populations, potentially pushing them to skew towards dominance of a few break-through clones. An evolutionarily conserved answer to curb these aberrant selective pressures is cell competition, the elimination of a subset of cells by their neighbours in a seemingly homogenous population. Cell competition in mammalian systems is a relatively recent discovery that has now been observed across many tissue systems, such as embryonic, haematopoietic, intestinal, and epithelial compartments. With this rapidly growing field, there is a need to revisit and standardize the terminology used, much of which has been co-opted from evolutionary biology. Further, the implications of cell competition across biological scales in organisms have been difficult to capture. In this review, we make three key points. One, we propose new nomenclature to standardize concepts across dispersed studies of different types of competition, each of which currently use the same terminology to describe different phenomena. Second, we highlight the challenges in capturing information flow across biological scales. Third, we challenge the field to incorporate next generation technologies into the cell competition toolkit to bridge these gaps. As the field of cell competition matures, synergy between cutting edge tools will help elucidate the molecular events which shape cellular growth and death dynamics, allowing a deeper examination of this evolutionarily conserved mechanism at the core of multicellularity.

Keywords: cell competition; development; molecular recording; stem cells; synthetic biology.

Publication types

  • Review